ICTs and Universities Conference

Posted on January 3, 2005  /  14 Comments

Sujata and I will be participating in a conference in Manila addressing how to get them to focus on ICTs. In light of the Indian Ocean tsunami, there will also be a session on disaster warning, where I will speak. Provisional program is attached.

Manila ICT4D and Universities Program

Asia Consultation


  1. It is interesting to note that Rohan Samarajiva has now become an “expert” on “disaster warning”!

    I wonder whether Rohan is willing to place on public record his traning and credentials on “disaster warning” as he is now giving “talks”on the subject.

    Sunil Govinnage
    Instutute of Sustainability and Technology Policy
    Murdoch University

  2. The final report of the comprehensive study of the effective use of telecommunications in emergency situations in Sri Lanka that was conducted under my leadership is unfortunately not available on the web. However the interim report is available at http://www.reliefweb.int/telecoms/tampere/slcs.html.

    In addition, Mr Govinnage may wish to peruse :
    Srivastava, L. and R. Samarajiva (2003). Regulatory design for disaster preparedness and recovery by infrastructure providers: South Asian experience, in Critical infrastructures: State of the art in research and application, eds. W. A. H. Thissen & P. M. Herder, pp. 103-120. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

    Samarajiva, R. (2001). Disaster preparedness and recovery: A priority for telecom regulatory agencies in liberalized environments. International Journal of Regulation and Governance, 1(2): 1-16; also in Proceedings of the Policy and Development Summit, ITU Telecom Africa 2001. Johannesburg, December 2001. http://www.itu.int/TELECOM/aft2001/cfp/auth/4858/pap_4858.pdf

  3. Now will Mr. Govinnage go back to writing poetry instead of dabbling in disaster management?

  4. Yes, of course, (and I write prose as well!) but I make my living by coordinating risk management in a public organisation, hence, I know what I talk about, Sir!

    I thought Lirne.Net provides open forums without asking people to go away!

  5. Dear Mr. Govinnage,

    Okay, let us take some use of your expertise. May I ask a simple request from you?

    I, as an individual, am preparing a list of ALL POSSIBLE disasters (both natural and manmade) Sri Lanka might encounter in the next 20 years. I also attempt to do a sort of ranking (in the lack of past Sri Lankan experience per se) based on their likelihood and impact. I intend to get this list endorsed by prominent personalities and get it published. This list will include ALL types of disasters – not only tsunamis, landslides and floods, but even events such as oil spills, nuclear leakages or even SARS epidemics.

    My sole objective is to emphasise the need to be prepared to face ANY type of disaster. It is unfortunate that now the govt uses the formula ‘disaster preparedness = tsunami preparedness’ and even gone to the length of implying some stupid rules like the no constructions on the 100m belt! This type of ‘preparedness’ will have no impact when the next disaster hits us!!

    This is my request: Can you give some of your time and provide me a list of ALL possible disasters (if possible with the ranks – I know that can be highly subjective) which can have some sort of effect on us.

    Please do not laugh on this request. I am sure you know how a small ship disconnected this entire nation from the rest of world simply by anchoring at the wrong spot!!

  6. Mr Govinnage

    Criticism is good as long as it is constructive. There is no point in using up valuable band width for what looks like some personal agenda. Rohan had invited you to share your knowledge. Now Chanuka has requested you for as specific list. Shall we start with this simple list so you could be useful?

    Harsha de Silva

  7. Dear Chanuka and Harsha,

    Thank you for inviting me to provide you with “a list of ALL POSSIBLE disasters (both natural and manmade) Sri Lanka might encounter in the next 20 years.”

    In my view, it is no use we (as individuals) compiling a list of “ALL POSSIBLE disasters” as there are so many factors which might change the priority of preparing for disasters.

    If you are keen about disaster preparedness, I suggest you work with local counterparts (Govt and NGOs) as it is the best way to begin the process.

  8. Okay, Mr. Govinnage. Thank you very much. I think this is the easy way out for you. Now we all know that you are a ‘real expert’ in this field. I will find someone else who has ‘less expertise’ than you who can prepare a simple list.

  9. I think you will find the Asia early warning system document that I am posting separately ( this does not allow me to attach documents) to be useful in compiling a list (the TRC document has this, according to Sri Lanka government reporting categories, but it is available only in hardcopy).

    Not having heard back from Mr Govinnage on my request to help us assemble the local disaster management experts, I am not surprised that he has declined to assist you. We are most probably asking for assistance that is too trivial.

  10. The best person to get Tsunami warning system developed is Dr Rashmin Gunersekera. He is personally interested to help Sri Lanka but someone will have to invite him.

    He could be contacted on


    Following mail was a reply when I asked him about earthquakes in Sri Lanka and forward an article which appered in the local news paper.


    There is a diffuse plate boundary South of Sri Lanka (which has been there for aprox. ( 9 million years, but geological time wise its new!)

    http://wwwneic.cr.usgs.gov/neis/plate_tectonics/plates.html ).

    But actually, opinion is divided whethter it is a just an intra-plate deformation or a diffuse plate boundary. For sure the big earthquake DID NOT occur on this boundary but in the boundary between continental eurasian plate and the oceanic indian plate. (So far so clear?) (and a big Eq here extremely unlikely in human time). Also, big Eq, are more common between continental-oceanic boundaries than anoceanic-oceanic boundaries as the density contrasts are smaller in the latter.)

    Also the term boundary is misleading for this case as, its morphological and rheological characteristics are very different to a normal plate boundary. Also there are several diffuse plate boundaries accross the world, so this is nothing special (see url).

    The journal article the prof. is talking about is actually 10 years old and the results determined with that type of experiment are notoriously unreliable.

  11. Just want to make clear I have not at any stage discussed a tsunami warning system. My focus is on a national disaster warning system that can carry tsunami as well as other kinds of warnings. LIRNEasia has no comparative advantage in these sophisticated disaster warning systems (indeed one could argue that Sri Lanka should not spend effort on these kinds of systems which are best left to regional or international organizations).

  12. Dear Rohan,

    A few points:

    (a) You wrote that your “focus is on a national disaster warning system that can carry tsunami as well as other kinds of warnings.” It is VERY difficult to develop ONE “national disaster warning system” as issues relating to different disasters need different approaches including warning systems. For example, developing an early warning and community preparedness to deal with droughts and or landslides are different to that of a Tsunami disaster response.
    (b) ADPC Alumni list – As you are very well aware I no longer work for ADPC. I cannot provide any privilege or individual information breaching professional guidelines
    (c) Upon request, am more than happy to provide comment on your disaster management proposals/ drafts (in my individual capacity). However, I must emphasise that now I’m an “outsider” hence may have no valuable comments to make despite my understanding of the concepts of disaster management.
    (d) Despite your kind invitation, I am unable to participate in the activities of the Vanguard Foundation without knowing their credentials and expertise.
    (e) (It appears that this foundation was set up a few days after the tsunami disaster. If so WHY?
    (f) It also appears that the disaster management vision of the organisation does not go in hand in hand with its child sponsorship program!
    (g) You are still welcome to address me as Sunil (I suppose we both know each other [since our 80s IFS days!] well enough to be direct and honest in our current or future dialogues on academic matters).

    Best wishes.


  13. I guess I assume too much in my comments, partly because I’ve made the finer distinctions in the TOR for the expert that is the basis for the project and because not all the discussion is on this website: quite a bit of the discussion is happening via person-to-person e-mails because this is a public space.

    But to restate what I thought is obvious: The DWS must be capable of handling the disasters of large scale significance (tsunami, cyclone and maybe earthquake), and possible those of regional significance (landslides, flash floods, etc.). There is no sense in warning people using radio and sirens about drought.

  14. Following text is a part from Dr Rashmins e-mail

    Thanks so much for sending me the postings!

    In my point of view, there seems to be some confusion with what people actually mean by a warning system. I would hope that there be a regional monitoring CENTRE (Eg Indian ocean Tsunami Monitoring centre) and local early warning SYSTEMS.

    I understand there is already a disaster management centre in SL. Under the jurisdiction of this centre you could implement different warning systems for different disasters. Ofcourse there would need to be good coordination between the scientific community, modellers and civil defence authorities. I guess the use of Remote Sensing and GIS in particular would have considerable adavantages in such situations.

    I do invision obstacles in the form of bureaucracy, complecancy and inefficiency which would be detrimental to implementation of a warning system.

    In the next twenty years, I think there would be an increase in the frequency of natural disasters as a consequence of the effects of global warming and global dimming. In Sri Lanka in particular, I guess there would be more intense and more frequent weather affected natural diasasters such as cyclones, storm surges, thunderstorms and droughts. However, there is also a considerable probability that there will be another Tsunami within the next 20 years (particularly in the light of the high stress level of the Sumatran fault). Although, I anticipate the mercalli intensity of earthquakes to be low in Sri Lanka, there is a risk from weather patterns affected by explosive eruption of Volcanoes like Merapi in Indonesia.

    I believe the key to avoiding a yet another catastrophe, is disaster preparedeness and education.
    Perhaps we should have a nat. disaster drill day like Japan.